Young swimming instructor makes a difference with Swimming on the Spectrum School

1 April 2022

Growing up with 5 younger brothers, 3 of which are on the spectrum, Ciara Kinsella recognised that there was no accessible swim school providing specialised aquatic services to people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), developmental delay and other abilities. At just 19-years-old and amid a global pandemic, Ciara decided to develop Swimming on the Spectrum, a swimming school aiming to provide accessible and inclusive aquatic services for this group.  

Since 2020, the swimming school has grown from just Ciara and 10 students to now include 10 swimming instructors on staff and upwards of 200 students. Based in Bibra Lake, Ciara has developed a range of training programs and services outside of traditional swimming training methods tailored towards providing her students with the necessary resources for swimming success. 

Parents of children enrolled in the swimming school have found the specialised environment to be supportive of their child’s needs. “Given my daughter is nonverbal, I knew she wouldn’t succeed in mainstream programs. Putting her in a class like that would be setting her up to fail. I didn’t want to affect her confidence,” said Morgan Brettner. “I also had consideration for other parents that attend those classes because they’re spending a lot of money and I didn’t want her to be seen as the naughty or disruptive child, which happens so often when it’s a child who is neurodiverse. Having the ability to have a one-on-one class is a huge benefit.” 

150 children are diagnosed with ASD every hour, working out to be approximately 1.3 million children diagnosed every year. Swimming schools that are considerate of children with ASD is increasingly important, with 91% of parents in our community leaving other aquatic services due to them not understanding their child’s needs.   

“For kids who don’t fit in the mainstream schooling, having a program that can be completely tailored to their child is something that’s so important,” the Morgan said. “It gives you confidence as a parent to know they’re with someone that they’re building trust, they’re with qualified and experienced professionals.” 

Ciara has specifically developed a training program for the Swimming on the Spectrum School which goes beyond the traditional education methods of most aquatic services, including the development of a wide range of visual resources, the ability for participants to choose their own games, and the use of social stories to outline the expectations before, after and during each session. “As long as they have a good support network around them, they are capable of just about anything,” Ciara said.  

Swimmers at the Swimming on the Spectrum School have responded extremely well to the program since it opened, with parents describing that their child’s confidence has drastically improved. “She is learning basic survival things like learning to hold her breath when you go underwater, which when you live in Australia is something so important.”  

Swimming on the Spectrum is a recipient of Royal Life Saving WA’s Swim and Survive Fund. As part of the Society’s commitment to providing accessible swimming and water safety for all, the community grant helps organisations deliver this education to vulnerable groups within our community.  

It’s encouraging to see ASD students getting so much fun and enjoyment out of the lessons offered by Ciara’s swimming school. For parents looking to get involved in a program, Ciara advises to, “find someone who is patient and doesn’t force the student out of their pace. Take things one step at a time.” 

To learn more about our Access and Equity work through the Swim and Survive program visit the following link.

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